Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt held a roundtable meeting Monday with several elected officials, agriculture and utility representatives in Orangeburg County on a federal rule regulating waterways.
Pruitt was seeking input on redefining the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule that protects drinking water supplies. However, Pruitt and others said the rule too broadly regulates waterways, hurting farmers and industry.
“I think it’s right to do what they did, as far as provide a definition,” Pruitt said. “It’s just that their definition didn’t provide the clarity and certainty and it represented an overreach.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the 2015 definition, meant to protect waterways that could affect drinking water supplies, went too far.
“The problem we’re trying to solve here is to reign in a theory of the case that would destroy development and the ability of private landowners to make rational decision,” Graham said. “A pond in Edgefield County could be considered a navigable water of the United States. That is absolutely ridiculous and we’re going to fix that”
Titan Farms President Chalmers Carr is glad President Donald Trump’s administration is rescinding and redefining the rule. He said the previous rule would’ve adversely affected his operation of 30 irrigation ponds that water his 7,000-acre farm of peaches and vegetables in the Midlands.
“We don’t have any subsurface water to pull from so we can’t put a well in the ground to start irrigating,” Carr said. “Based on the definition, we would’ve been considered a tributary to a navigable stream or waterway, which then would’ve put us on regulations…and could’ve stopped me from using my water all together.”
S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers joined other elected officials including Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, S.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Ted Pitts, S.C. Farm Bureau President Harry Ott, farmers and power company representatives spoke at Jim Roquemore’s home and farm where the meeting was held.
The event was not open to the public and environmental groups were not represented at the table.
But Roquemore—who is CEO of Patten Seed Company and the state manager of Super Sod, which Patten owns—is also the chairman of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. He said a regulatory balance of irrigation, drainage and pesticides is keeping agriculture the state’s top industry.
“If we can’t drain our fields, we can’t grow our crops,” Roquemore said. “And that all goes to the Waters of the United States and what we can do as good stewards to protect the land and provide good drainage.”
Pruitt said farmers are some of the biggest environmentalists and represent the frontline, as opposed organizations “that exist just to engage in advocacy.”
Pruitt has received feedback in other states and will continue his tour next month. He expects a new rule to be finalized early next year.